Hanging out over Effingham Point on Barkley Sound was a small low—not a really bad one, only about 5 millibars or so, but it was small, probably only about 15-20 miles wide, but if you remember your Meteorology 101, wind speed is created by the gradient of pressure over distance. Not only that, winds circulate counterclockwise around the low.
Now the plan was to leave a couple of hours later, by which time this little weather system was supposed to blow by. What we didn’t check out was the cold front coming down the Fraser River basin (it wasn’t even in our awareness. We were still wondering if it would get cold enough in Princess Louisa to give us a little slush.). A lot can change in the sixteen hours from heading off to play services and Matia Island to your stern.
In less than fifteen minutes the weather went from 3-6kts southerlies at +5ºC (40ºF) to 25-30kt westerlies at -5ºC (25ºF). The sea went from flat to wave 5 feet tall at about 5 seconds apart—a very good imitation of a washing machine on a heavy grease removal cycle. The snow hit, and visibility went from about 5 miles or more to 20 feet in snow. It was like sailing inside an iceberg! And, of course, as we moved north and the system moved east the wind moved to the north (Meteorology 101 again, winds rotate around lows in a counterclockwise direction in the northern hemisphere) and were banging head on, and finally, on our beam. After about three hours of this mistreatment, Martin was bushed, Lorelette was seasick, and Walt, who was looking for a nice long nap before piloting into Vancouver was back steering—by hand—because all the computers that can often run Braesail are next to useless in these conditions because they can’t anticipate a completely confused sea state. We had waves running from the south (from the main prevailing system), from the west (from that nasty little low), and from the north (from the Fraser River outflow). It was not fun, but as the light came up at about 8:00 AM, things calmed down a bit.
What we should have done:
We should have bailed into Point Roberts and waited for the mess to blow by. For that matter, we should have waited for first light (and a night’s sleep) and done the stop in Point Roberts that we did the first time. Even with a “Sunday at 1100” deadline, we could have checked in at White Rock.
About noon, we dragged our sorry backsides onto a snow- and ice-covered dock in False Creek (a waterway in downtown Vancouver), called the CBSA, and hoped that they would let us in this time. In less than five minutes the team of four agents arrived to begin check in procedures. I’m sure that they were ready to dig through everything on the boat, as there had to have been some very strong chemistry on board to make some relatively normal people come through the storm on the Strait. After finding everything in order, they checked us in and cleared us to continue traveling. They decided that the inspection that the other team had done was good enough. They probably thought insanity was communicable, and didn’t want to be infected!
We left the customs dock and headed around Stanley Park, only to be greeted by a barge that had blown off its anchor during the storm in November.
When you create a mix of good British Humour with acerbic West Coast humor you get a massive outpouring of memes. One of my favourites is this one that riffs on the overheated real estate market in the Greater Vancouver Area:
Heading north was beyond glorious. Stanley Park (to the right, below) was flocked with 3-5 cm (2-3 in) of snow, and there was fresh snow on the mountains to the north.
And all was good, except that it was just a bit colder than expected. But hey! the cockpit is heated and crew is happy.
And soon, we tied up at our slip in the Vancouver Rowing Club. Braesail demonstrated that she could take care of us in a near gale, Lorelette had regained her sea legs, and we were warm and happy in Braesail’s commodious cabin. Quite soon after, Martin’s girlfriend, Karen, joined us on board, and we had a wonderful Christmas dinner in a very northwest fashion: squash soup with apples, tea-smoked salmon filet, mushroom risotto, and a great variety of Christmas cookies—all baked to survive boat travel (and they did).
…and to all a good night…